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Setanta on the Conference

Live non-League coverage bemuses Cameron Carter

Setanta, having promised its subscribers that it will bring them closer to football with its coverage of the Blue Square Premier League, has proceeded to zoom in so close as to make its subject almost unrecognisable. Encountering affairs such as Halifax Town v Grays Athletic (Setanta Sports 1) transports the day-tripping mollycoddled big-game viewer to the unnerving world of football stripped of its usual lush soundtrack. Here one is exposed to the individual bellowing of team coaches – be it the complex polysyllabic cry of “Give it wide!” or the beautiful rhythmic simplicity of “Ben! Ben! Ben! Ben!” – as we become eavesdroppers on this raw, pitch-perfect reality.

It is a world shrunk tight to the slightest sounds and movements. The satisfying “bock!” of the ball as it thumps into a flying centre-half’s head, the snap of the referee’s assistant’s flag in a stiff breeze – these are joys not available to the televisual spectator of the Premier League, to whom such detail is lost in the size and sound of the upgraded product. During Halifax’s dour struggle with Grays, you could actually hear the fourth official resetting his outsized electronic timepiece to zero at the start of the second half as the camera reluctantly weaved its way back towards the pitch. To be hard but fair, it was more enjoyable to hear this match than to watch it, so poor was most of the action.

The phrase “helped on by…” is clearly a useful one at this level for commentators, as the word “pass” is simply too flattering a term to describe the distribution from defence and midfield. This being roots football, there was no studio for commentators Steve Bower and Paul Parker to relax in afterwards, so they stood out on the pitch in the wind discussing the game’s chance. Parker’s unusually close position to the taller Bower, almost nestling up to him, was reminiscent of the default Cannon & Ball stage position in their comic prime. As for Setanta’s general performance so far, there has been the minimum of annoying Sky-style fuss and hyperbole to get in the way of the football, apart from the moment Steve Bower yelped “What a game we have for you next week – Stevenage against Burton Albion!” during yet another lull in the Halifax game.

It is well known that foreign players have brought a lot to our game with their new ways of scoring and celebrating goals, their funny habit of reflecting carefully before answering and a general disinclination to drink and drive. What they have brought to British punditry is less obvious. Marcel Desailly is presumably brought on to impersonate the sound of an English sentence falling downstairs. On October 6’s Football Focus he told us: “You have to be confident about beating a team who are under the capacity of winning against England.” Then, regarding their captain’s importance to Chelsea, he said: “John Terry is the one to put a bit on the side.” Of course, fluency in English has never been a requirement of any pundit on any channel, but one really could eat a cheese baguette and score a goal against Norwich in the time it takes Marcel to choose the right word – which, invariably, is not the right word.

Jacqui Oatley has returned to commentary duties after a significant absence and I’m afraid she didn’t slip back unnoticed. Many male commentators have begun as awkwardly as she has, using stilted, second-hand phraseology and trying to sound all excited, but Oatley has the added drawback that her voice apparently goes into Morse code during goalmouth action. It’s difficult to believe that Dave Bassett could employ faulty logic in the arena of sexual politics, but there is clearly no reason football cannot have a female commentator (I would love to hear Moira Stewart, for example, describing a booking for simulation). However, this particular female commentator needs to find her own voice and, if necessary, a couple of Valium before the game.

From WSC 250 December 2007

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